Our next opponents: Will Heidenheim's legend play?

Just three days after the brilliant 3-1 win against record champions Bayern Munich, the Werkself are next in action in the idyllic surroundings of Heidenheim. The Peter Bosz team are looking to secure a place in the DFB Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday (5 February, 18.30 CET) away to the second division team from the Swabian Alps. But it is anything but an easy task as FCH are on the up in the second division – driven forward by a duo almost without equal in German professional football. The lowdown on our next opponents.


2019 in division 2 started for FC Heidenheim just as 2018 ended – unbeaten. A 2-2 draw against Holstein Kiel in the opening fixture of the year was followed last Saturday by a 1-0 win against Dynamo Dresden. FCH have put together an impressive run of six games without defeat. In fact, the team under coach Frank Schmidt have not left the pitch as losers since the end of September. The result: The Swabians have crept up almost unnoticed in the race for promotion to the Bundesliga. The victory over Dresden has taken them to fifth place, level on points with Union Berlin in the play-off spot of third place, ahead of the last game of the matchday against FC St Pauli on Monday night. And Heidenheim have also enjoyed a good run in the DFB Cup. In the first round they beat Regional League side SSV Jeddeloh 5-2 before knocking out fellow second division Sandhausen with a 3-0 victory. The home game against the Werkself could certainly be a highlight to date in an impressive campaign for the club so far.


It's hard to discuss Heidenheim without thinking of three names: The club and its success story are inextricably linked with member of the board Holger Sanwald, who has been in charge of the club since 1994, plus Frank Schmidt and Marc Schnatterer (pictured above). The coach Schmidt has been responsible for the first team since 2007, when FCH was founded as a breakaway from Heidenheimer SB, and he is the longest-serving head coach in German professional football. Born in Heidenheim, the 45-year-old is a crowd favourite like nobody else and he has led the club from the Baden-Württemberg Oberliga to competing for a place in the Bundesliga. The relationship to his captain Schnatterer is also special as he is Schmidt's right-hand man on the pitch. Just like Schmidt, the midfielder is also loyal to the club: In 2008 Schnatterer signed for Heidenheim where he earned the nickname 'Totti of the eastern Alps' – because he worked together with Schmidt in taking the club forward although he was often the target of clubs from the Bundesliga. Nobody doubts that the now 33-year-old has what it takes to play at a higher level thanks to his ability and his feared set-pieces. Schnatterer, who year after year is the top scorer and provider in the second division, prefers to stay at FCH and last week he extended his contract to 2021 – and that makes the trio of Sanwald/Schmidt/Schnatterer something extremely unusual in the otherwise fast-moving world of modern professional football.


Whether the living FCH legend Schnatterer will be able to start against Bayer 04 is anything but certain. Due to a foot injury, the attacking midfielder missed parts of the preparations in the winter break and in the last two league games he was only to able to play for half an hour. It is equally clear in a game that is a highlight for the whole club that Schmidt will be unhappy not to include his captain. Not just because Schnatterer inspires both the team and fans as a key player and crowd favourite; also because he is the best player in the Heidenheim squad in spite of his age and he can make the difference at any point with his set pieces – particularly in a match against the Bundesliga side and that is a quality that cannot be underestimated. There is certainly a very big question mark over the possibility of Schnatterer being able to start the game and go the full distance.


When Heidenheim were in the third division, the squad consisted exclusively of players from southern Germany. That was no longer possible with increasing success but the club is still taking a clear route in their selection of players: All the players in the squad are native German speakers and, with the exception of the Austrian striker Nikola Dovedan, all are German citizens. Heidenheim do not discover talented players with scouting trips across the world but often in lower leagues or in the reserve teams of Bundesliga clubs. For example, the former FC Bayern youth player Niklas Dorsch (21) has made a namefor himself in the second division and attracted the interest of Bundesliga clubs. The chosen path has definitely been successful and should at least ensure the future of Heidenheim in Germany's second tier.


Heidenheim are capable of causing problems for any team in Germany – including Bayer 04. Last year the Swabians showed they could upset top teams in the domestic cup competition and they were only defeated in extra time by the eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt. Even if they exit the DFB Cup at the Round of 16 stage, nobody at Heidenheim can be unhappy with the current season. A place in the top five in the second division is on the cards and that would be the highest finish in the club's history. And nobody would be completely surprised if they cannot do better than the big name clubs from Hamburg, Cologne and Berlin.

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